- Hand sanitizer does expire, usually about three years after its manufacture date.
- Hand sanitizer expires because its alcohol content dissolves over time – once it drops below 60% alcohol, it won’t be as effective at killing germs.
- However, expired hand sanitizer may still have some effectiveness, especially if it hasn’t been opened yet.
- Visit Insider’s Health Reference library for more advice.
If you don’t have access to soap and water, hand sanitizer can be used to kill some of the germs on your hands, or render them inactive, says Alex Berezow, microbiologist and Vice President of Scientific Communications at the American Council on Science and Health.
Hand sanitizer needs to be at least 60% alcohol to be effective â€” but it can also expire, usually after three years. Here’s what you need to know to have effective hand sanitizer.
Yes, hand sanitizer does expire
Soon after you pop the top on your hand sanitizer, it starts to lose effectiveness. That’s because the alcohol inside evaporates over time. After a bottle of hand sanitizer is opened, the alcohol content will decrease as it evaporates.
“If the concentration goes below 60% alcohol, then it loses some effectiveness,” Berezow says.
The expiration date is a manufacturer’s best guess for when the alcohol content will dip below 60%. Most hand sanitizers have an expiration date of three years after their manufacture date.
If expired hand sanitizer is your only choice, use it
Hand sanitizers are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, so they’re required to have an expiration date. However, in a pinch, you can still use expired hand sanitizer to disinfect your hands. “Some alcohol is better than nothing,” Berezow says.
If a bottle hasn’t been opened, less of the alcohol will have evaporated, so a freshly-opened bottle of hand-sanitizer that is past its expiration date will likely be more effective than a bottle that is expired and has already been opened.
If you’re unable to buy hand sanitizer, you can make your own, but it is much better to just wash your hands. Bloom emphasises that â€” when possible â€” washing your hands with soap and water is always preferable to using hand sanitizer, especially at home where you, presumably, always have access to soap and water.
“It is a bad idea to use hand sanitizers in the home,” Bloom says. “People will use them instead of washing their hands, which is a much better way to get rid of a virus.” In addition, hand sanitizer will not effectively clean your hands if they are visibly dirty.
At home, rubbing alcohol is better used to disinfect surfaces, which can limit the number of germs that you pick up when you touch those surfaces. Just as with hand sanitizer, you’ll want wipes or a homemade solution with at least 60% alcohol.